The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke
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Rotisserie Grilling - Part 2

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PART 1of this blog entry talked about the equipment needed to start rotisserie grilling. In this entry I will describe the process of setting up the grill and getting the meat on the grill, I will throw in some Do’s and Don’ts as long as you promise not to ask me how I know some of the Don’ts. Rotisserie grilling isn’t really that hard and the end results will be some of the best food you will make on your grill. Once again I’ll mention that I do my rotisserie grilling on my gas grill. I don’t use charcoal in the main chamber of my smoker to confine any charcoal cleanup to the side firebox. A lot of what I describe for the gas grill will still apply for a charcoal grill.

Buying the Meat:
For the purposes of even cooking and to a lesser extent easy turning, you’ll want to get a piece of meat that is cylindrical in shape. At your local meat market you can often find roasts that are boneless and have already been tied off with strings. Small birds such as Cornish hens, Duck, Chickens etc. are also a great candidate for the rotisserie. If you tell your butcher that the meat you are ordering is for the rotisserie, they will often tie it up for you without your asking. But don’t be shy about asking the butcher to do it if you haven’t mastered the Butcher’s slip knot yet.

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The ideal rotisserie roast shape is cylindrical. The roast should be tied into a cylindrical shape by you or your butcher

If your rotisserie motor is powerful and has a decent amount of torque you should be able to throw a piece of meat at it that is not perfectly cylindrical in shape. If your spit has counterweights you can use them to balance off an uneven load. While I don’t plan to talk about it here: I have heard of people doing ribs on the rotisserie. They weave the spit through the bones in the middle of the rib. Above one bone, below the next. This is the ultimate uneven load, but ribs don’t weight that much to begin with.

Food Prep:
Nothing special here vs. other types of cooking. Be sure to leave enough time to do your prep. That is one of my weaknesses: I always think I have left more than enough time and instead I have left just enough time. I always try to start earlier than I think I need and if there is extra time at the end I can relax. Problem is something or another always seems to require extra time. Since rotisserie roasts are self-basting they don’t usually require an elaborate mop or rub. They are often just seasoned with a few spices. Cuts that tend to be tougher may require some time in a marinade. The lamb shown below used a marinade to flavor and tenderize the meat. Just be sure to reread your recipe earlier in the day (or the day before) so you will know the time needed to make the sauces rubs or marinades. Leave time for marinading and final prep etc. Some recipes want the meat to set out at room temperature for a while before going on the grill.

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This lamb roast had a stretchy plastic mesh on it which I have just pulled off in this picture. You can see from the indentations how much surface coverage it had.

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I tied the lamb roast myself because removing the mesh at the end of the cook would pull off much of the seasoning and outer bark

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The finished lamb roast retained most of the bark after I cut off the 5 strings I used to tie it. I would have lost far more if I kept the mesh on.

So the prep for a rotisserie roast is pretty similar to doing it any other way. You do want to try to make it somewhat cylindrical in shape. If the roast is already tied with string you are good to go. If the roast has one of those plastic stretchy meshes on it, I take them off and tie it up with Butcher’s twine myself. I find the meshes harder to get off when it is time to carve the meat. The smaller meshes in particular, make it harder for rubs or seasonings to adhere to the meat. You start pulling the mesh off to carve the meat and a great deal of the rub comes off with it. I once made two small beef spoon roasts on the rotisserie and used them as a test of this theory. One I kept in the plastic mesh, one I removed the mesh and retied the roast with Butcher’s twine. The roast with the mesh lost much more of the seasonings.

The only other consideration is time of year. If you are to be coking in extremely cold weather pick a low maintenance recipe. By this I mean one that doesn’t require you to lift the grill cover to apply a mop or marinade. I make a lamb roast on the rotisserie where you apply butter or a brine every fifteen minutes. This is better left for the summer. Also it might be easier to do an extremely large roast in the warmer weather too.

Outdoor Grill Prep:
The first step, which I sometimes forget to do, is have an extension cord outside and plugged into the motor. You don’t want to walk outside with your meat on the spit only to find you can’t start the motor. If it has been a while since I used my rotisserie I will also bring the spit outside to gauge the portion of it that is in front of or over the heat source. No sense having to move the meat on the spit after the fact. I will often put the first fork on at this time at the right location to assure the meat is centered on the heat source.

For my previous gas grills it was necessary to remove the grill grates to give the roast enough clearance to spin. My previous gas grills were 2 or 3 burner models. You should read the directions for your grill to see the recommended setup. For both of my previous grills I would take a pan and place it directly over the lave rocks or ceramic briquettes To do this I would need to remove an inverted V-shaped metal shield over the burners so the pan would sit flat. These flame shields have different names depending on whose grill you buy. Their purpose is to keep dripping fat from landing directly on the open flame. For this type of indirect cooking the drip pan has you covered. Having water in the pan helps even out the heat distribution. At first I used to use disposable aluminum pans to hold the water and/or catch the drips. I had several of these spring leaks and lose all their water or if I was collecting drippings for gravy, the melted fat. After three such leaks in aluminum pans, I bought a regular shallow metal roast pan that I used purely for the grill. That way I wasn’t concerned about the discoloration on the outside from exposure to the direct flame.

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On my current gas grill I just need a simple aluminum drip pan.

My current gas grill uses an infra red unit mounted on the back wall of the grill. You can see that in the picture above. The infra red unit has its own dedicated burner. There is no heat setting, you turn it to full power when you light it. The setup couldn’t be simpler. Place a drip pan under the meat and light the grill. I like to add the pan before starting the grill, so I don’t forget it in the heat of the moment later. Since I don’t use water filled drip pans, I am able to use the disposable aluminum types. If it is a big roast I can remove the grates and use a drop in cast iron pan made for my grill as seen below.

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For bigger roasts I remove the grille grate and use a modular drop in cast iron pan made for my grill. In this case where I was using a mop the cast iron was also more reliable than a thin aluminum pan.

On my old two burner grill, you lit both burners. On my grill with three side to side burners, you lit the left and right burners and left the middle unit off. Check your grill’s directions for the proper setup. Experience will tell you how long it takes for your grill to come to temperature. Leave more time in the colder weather. On my grill I light the infra red rotisserie 15 minutes ahead of time, 20 minutes in the winter. If you are using an oven thermometer to measure the grill temps as I described in Part 1 of this entry, now would be the time to place it or hang it in the grill.

Indoor Grill Prep:
If you are going to use wood chips to create smoke via a smoker drawer in the grill (or smoker pouch), you should soak them in cold water for an hour ahead of time. The wet chips make more smoke than dry ones. I have a foil pan for just this purpose that I reuse. When the chips are done soaking I pour them into a colander to drain them. So you will need to start soaking the chips one hour before they will actually be needed on the grill. When I go out to light the rotisserie burner I also put my wood chips in the smoker drawer and light its burner. I initially keep this burner on high and dial it down to medium when I see the first signs of smoke. A smoker box or smoker box goes directly on the coals. I find my wood chips last around an hour. So for a longer cook as soon as I finish soaking one batch, I will start the next batch.

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Soak your wood chips in cold water for about an hour.

Putting the Food on the Spit:
As mentioned above, I often take the spit outside and mount the fork near the handle end in the proper location for my piece of meat. Then later it is a simple matter of putting the meat on the spit and adding the second fork. Make sure you tighten the set screws on the fork down tight. These set screws have a way of unloosening over time. If they come loose and your meat stops spinning.... This throws that whole even cooking thing you had going for you right out the window.


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A little hard to see, but I used the sharp pointy end of a meat thermometer to pierce the onions to make it easier to insert them onto the bigger and not so sharp rotisserie spit.

If your food is small or fragile, like veggies for a shish kabob, you can use a knife or other sharp instrument to make a pilot hole so you don’t tear apart the piece trying to put it on the spit. Don’t ask how I know this. The pointy end of a meat thermometer will do the job nicely. Push the spit trough the meat trying to keep it in the rotational center of the piece. You can balance one side of the spit in your cupped hand and turn the handle of the spit with your other hand. If it is a cylindrical piece of meat it should turn pretty freely and evenly. If it is an uneven piece of meat you can add the counterweights to the spit and test the balance this way.

My spit is wide enough that it can span my one bowl Kitchen sink. I often set two Pyrex meat loaf pans on the left and right sides of the sink to support the rotisserie. I use the 9 or 10” (23-25 cm) long meatloaf pans to provide a wide area of support in case the spit tries to slide or roll. It is also a good idea to have your sink be clean or put a food safe plastic bag over the sink in case the rotisserie does slip. Suspending the meat on the rotisserie over the sink like this allows me to do any final surface prep without the meat coming into contact with a counter. If the meat requires a rub, or the insertion of garlic slivers or the pinning onions onto the roast with toothpicks etc. it is better to keep the meat up off the counter. This suspended perch also makes it easy to add in an oven thermometer which you tie off to the spit. As I mentioned in
ROTISSERIE GRILLING-PART 1, I have not had great luck with this unless it was going into a huge piece of meat.

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I haven’t had great luck tying a meat thermometer onto a small rotisserie roast. It just starts wiggling loose. A big roast where the bulk of the probe is in the meat seems to work most of the time-but not 100 percent.

Last Items:
Once again before you bring the meat and the spit out to the grill check a few things. Is the motor plugged into a power source and ready to go? Is the grill up to temperature? Are the set screws on the forks holding the meat nice and tight? If there is a mop or a glaze required have you prepared it and is it cooled down? I also like to get my mops or glazes poured into glass bowls with plastic lids. This protects them from the elements or little winged creatures. If the weather is warm these can be kept covered out by the grill. In cold weather keep them inside.


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A butter sauce and a brine stored in covered glass bowls. The covers protect the sauces from the elements. There is a mop for applying the sauces and whisk for stirring them in a tray just behind. The handle you see just to the right of the side table is the smoker drawer.


At this point it is time to start cooking. In the final part of this blog entry I will describe the cooking process and some Do’s and Don’ts I have learned.
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SOME RELATED LINKS:
Here are the links for the other two parts in this series:
  ROTISSERIE GRILLING - PART 1 Blog Entry
  ROTISSERIE GRILLING - PART 3 Blog Entry


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